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Breakbulk Mentoring Event Empowers Women

Female Professionals Unite During Bustling Brunch Session at Breakbulk Europe

By Emma Dailey

Female professionals working across the logistics supply chain came together in Rotterdam for a packed Women in Breakbulk brunch at Breakbulk Europe 2024.

The topic for this year’s get-together was effective mentoring, and included a networking brunch, lively panel discussion, an in-depth training session and an interactive ‘speed-mentoring’ activity. The goal? Highlighting the role that mentoring can play in the breakbulk industry, and “to help ensure there is always more than one woman in the room,” said Leslie Meredith, marketing and media director at Breakbulk Events & Media.

During the panel discussion, four female speakers shared their experiences of mentoring and the dynamics of the mentor-mentee relationship.

Eli Gjesdal, managing director of the Empower Leadership Institute and founder and chairperson of the Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association (WISTA) Norway, kicked off the discussion by sharing the story of her mentee, Lisa. Gjesdal presented a blueprint for successful mentorship: one that involves understanding and exchange between the two parties.

“As her mentor, I listened to her and helped her see her strengths as well as areas where she needed to develop,” Gjesdal said. Together, they planned to overcome her professional challenges with objectives and steps for action based on “active listening and empathetic questioning to gain insight into her challenges and aspirations.”

In the end, “by identifying her unique talent, we crafted a roadmap for personal and professional growth.”

Gjesdal’s testimony showcased the positivity that can arise from mentorship, as she empowered Lisa to grow into the “true value-based leader that she is today.”

Elisabeth Cosmatos, president of The Heavy Lift Group (THLG), spoke about her earliest experience with mentorship: her father mentoring her to take on the family business when she was a child. She was inspired by her mentor and followed in his footsteps, but “being a woman in a male-dominated industry, I did face a lot of challenges,” she said. As her mentor, her father was there not to solve her problems, but to listen to her. To her, “sometimes, mentorship is just knowing there is someone next to you that you know you can speak to when times are difficult.”

Miriam Nagel, general sales manager at MOL Döhle Worldwide Logistics, and Marianne Blechingberg, managing director at Oy Hacklin Logistics, shared the two most valuable lessons they learned through being mentored. Blechingberg accepted a managerial role on condition of being mentored. Like many, she was afraid of “not being enough”, but took the leap anyway. Her key message for delegates: “take the opportunity when it is presented to you.”

Nagel’s key message focused on authenticity. She was shown a manner of working that never felt right for her, and so did things her own way. “I read a room before I read a rate sheet. I like to make a personal connection with the people I engage with,” she cited as an example. By carving her own path, she came to the conclusion that success and authenticity go hand in hand. “Stay unique, and do what you have to do, what feels right,” she said.

Following the panel discussion, Gjesdal's presentation, “Mentoring from All Angles,” further emphasized the profound impact and multifaceted nature of mentorship. In her words, “mentorship is a voyage,” which begins with the two parties establishing trust. Different types of mentoring – such as traditional, peer, reverse, skill-based and cross-cultural – all offer diverse perspectives and learning opportunities.

While mentors can facilitate introductions, provide industry insights and provide guidance and opportunity, mentees can also strive to maximize the benefits of the relationship through active engagement, openness to feedback and taking initiative. She highlighted the importance of effective communication through clarified expectations, active listening, trust, constructive feedback, regular check-ins and celebration of successes.

Gjesdal concluded by underscoring the dual impact of mentorship: it empowers both mentors and mentees, driving personal and professional success. The panel discussion was followed by an interactive exercise where delegates were able to put into practice the skills mentioned in Gjesdal's presentation.

“I liked the exercise a lot because for a few minutes, I had a mentor with 50 years of experience,” said Mariona Gras Llop, international account manager at ProMedia Group. “The main message I will be taking home is trusting in my instinct and my capabilities. I think all women know we are capable, but sometimes we need to embrace each other to remember that.”

The message was echoed by Luz Marina Espiau Moreno, commercial and marketing manager at the Port of Tenerife. “For me, this event was the most important of the entire conference. Supporting other women is key,” she said. Looking forward, Espiau added that “it is important to work together as women, as together we are stronger. As the sector continues to evolve, it is important to empower women, and have them be involved at all levels and all departments. In my view, the new generation also needs a new kind of mentor.”

Cynthia Worley, VP of Strategic Accounts at Sedna, pointed to the positive energy in the room. “I think that often, people question themselves, thinking: ‘Why would I be a mentor? What do I have to offer? At what point am I educated and enriched enough to provide guidance to a young person?’ And yet, you do not just mentor to teach someone else, you are mentoring also to learn from them. It is a two-way enrichment, and we saw everyone around the table really gaining from that. There was excitement on both sides, both mentors and mentees coming away more fulfilled.

“Miriam Nagel’s statement, ‘This is not a group, it’s a revolution’ really struck me. Year on year, my favorite event at Breakbulk is this one, and it never ceases to delight, because of the energy, the power that all of these women drive through each other,” Worley added. 

Find out how to join our Women in Breakbulk networking platform.